Chile is an immigrant-friendly country that offers one of the best passports in the world with visa-free travel to most countries including the US, Canada, Europe and Russia. This guide covers how to acquire residency, how taxation works in Chile, how to open a bank account, the practicalities of relocating along with useful travel information.
Best known for its unusual geography and Tierra del Fuego, Chile is an incredibly diverse country. It has high mountains, dry deserts, spectacular national parks, large developed cities, countless islands including Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island, attractive coastal resort towns and remote outposts. It is a country with an interesting history and a proud people. It is a country that offers a high quality of life and countless economic opportunities. It has a low effective tax rate and even offers new residents a three-year tax amnesty (can be extended to six years). While highly bureaucratic, Chile does not suffer from corruption problems endemic in the region. Violent crime is rare and the police force is considered one of the most professional in the world. Due to its location in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile has inverted seasons making it a great base for nomads during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. The currency of Chile is the peso (CLP) and the country ranks seventh in the world on the World Banks’ Index of Economic Freedom, higher than the United States and most of Europe.
Qualifying for residency
There are multiple ways to qualify for residency in Chile but the one that is most suited for nomads is either the periodic income or retirement visa. To qualify, you simply need to prove that you earn enough money to support yourself during your stay in Chile. That income may come from outside Chile, so long at it comes from a guaranteed source. There is no minimum amount required but to be approved you should show as much as possible and at least 1000$US per month or 50000 USD in savings. More is obviously preferable especially if you plan to live in a big city. A clean criminal record is also required (although not for those applying from within Chile on a tourist visa).
Applying for residency
1. Go to Chile and apply for temporary residency.
2. A decision will be granted within two to six months (often within 1-3 months).
3. If approved, spend at least 185 days within the country during the first year of your temporary residency.
4. After you have spent those 185 days, you can apply for permanent residency (no sooner than three months before your temporary residency expires, no later than one day prior).
5. Permanent residency is granted within three to nine months and is valid for life as long as you spend at least one day in Chile every year.
6. You can apply for an exemption for the yearly visit by visiting a Chilean embassy and paying a 75 USD fee.
7. After five years (maximum three years as a temporary resident + two as a permanent resident) you may be eligible to apply for citizenship.
You can access the Chilean government official list of required documents here. You should also bring notarized copies of your college degrees as they are required when applying for a local driver’s license (strange I know).
It is possible to apply on your own but unless you speak Spanish I recommend hiring a local immigration firm. They will help you save time and improve your chances of being approved. If you are on a low budget, you can hire a local translator to help you fill the forms and write the motivation letter. This should not cost you more than a few dollars.
Once you have resided in the country for five years, you become eligible to apply for citizenship. There is no longer a requirement for days spent in-country (from 2016 onwards). It may take up to a year for a naturalization application to be approved so I recommend beginning the process as soon as possible. There are no downsides to becoming a citizen versus remaining a permanent resident. In fact, there are only upsides. For one, the Chilean passport is one of the best in the world and grants visa-free access to most countries. As a citizen, you can also travel with your ID card to all of South America (the same is true for permanent residents). Chile does not tax its non-resident citizens and taxes its residents at one of the lowest rates in the OECD. Also important to note, Chile allows dual citizenship.
Legal expert – Cristian Laborda
Cristian Laborda is a Chilean-Spanish lawyer with a license to practice in both countries, and is the founder and Managing Director of Laborda Abogados, a law firm in Santiago, Chile. The firm specializes in providing advice to foreign individuals or companies on real estate, immigration, taxation, investment, relocation, acquisition, intellectual property and family law matters. In addition to his functions at Laborda Abogados, Cristian currently works as a consultant in oceanic affairs and other international matters, areas in which he has 10 years of expertise. He was formerly the acting Chilean Delegate and Head of the Oceanic Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is also a member of the American Society of International Law, International Bar Association, Colegio de Abogados de Chile, FCIB Global, United States ALQ, and Alumni Centre INBA. Cristian has greatly enjoyed being a part of the growth and transformation seen by his home country, Chile, in recent years, and is excited to advise and support foreign individuals and companies seeking to take part in all that Chile has to offer. Celaborda.com, +56 222 352 973, email@example.com.
Tax residents of Chile are liable for taxation on their worldwide income. New residents, however, are exempt from paying taxes on their foreign-sourced income for up to three years (can be extended for another three years). In practice, this means that it is possible to live in Chile tax-free up until citizenship is granted provided that best practice guidelines are followed and that a proper structure is in place. In most cases, this simply means registering a resident company abroad, keeping the proceeds from that company abroad and not engaging in any business in Chile.
A tax resident of Chile is an individual who has spent over six months in the country during two consecutive tax years OR who has established domicile. Tax residents and non-residents alike must file an annual tax return. The fiscal year is the calendar year. The income tax applies to income from employment, income from conducting business as well as investment income. The rates are progressive from 0% to 40%. Capital gains are usually taxed as normal income.
Powerful tax strategies
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Chile has some of the best banks in Latin America and by far, the best consumer banking products south of the Equator. Opening an account, however, is very hard. Most banks only accept permanent residents and even then, some will ask for two or more years of residency. Because of that and because of the way the foreign-source income tax exemption works, I do not recommend banking in Chile unless you are earning money locally.
Opening an account
While requirements vary from bank to bank, in most cases they are as follow (for permanent residents):
1. Your passport along with copies.
2. Your resident ID card (cédula).
3. A proof of origin for the funds you are depositing with the bank.
4. A proof of address.
Once you have prepared all due diligence documents, you will need to book an appointment with a bank officer who speaks English (unless you speak Spanish). At the appointment, you will be asked to present your due diligence documents along with the account opening deposit (bring it in cash, this will make things easier). During the appointment, do not forget to request access to the bank’s online banking facility.
If you are seriously thinking about relocating to Chile, you should first visit the country for a few weeks. If the visit is successful, your next step will be to start planning the relocation itself. Steps I recommend taking before the move include learning Spanish, setting up mail forwarding, setting up a VPN server and joining the expat communities in Chile. Members of Freedom Surfer’s Insiders Club should also announce their plans via Slack so that they can connect with members already in Chile.